By James Brown, Team Tri-Adventure
Donuts, chocolate and grated cheese. These are just some of the things that taste even better in the days of indulgence that follow 5 hours of hurling yourselves around the great British countryside in the name of adventure racing. Sunday 6th of November was the second in the Haglofs Open5 series which comprises 7 x 5-hour races in 2011/2012. The format of this race is simply:
- collect a map pre-printed with the location of the controls up to 2 hours before race start
- elect to run or cycle first
- when you start you will be given a list of control descriptions each assigned a value
The Shropshire Hills west of Church Stretton was an area unfamiliar to me and the race organisers Open Adventure. Also a first for me was racing in a mixed team, which is something important to get grips with as the top tier of adventure racing is strictly mixed-teams only. Not knowing what to expect always adds some extra excitement and I’m delighted to report the day delivered on all fronts; superb scenery, challenging course, and successful teamwork. We took an hour or so before race start to finish preparation and mull over both the run and bike maps, from experience I’ve found the bike map is the most important to analyse.
Starting on foot the rough plan we put together was immediately undone by the dummy-controls. Our planned loop to go south then ‘anti-clockwise’ was immediately re-planned and we chose to take on a gradual climb up to checkpoints 32 and 31. Fearing that too much running would not play to our biking-strengths we only focussed on the CPs with a high value. Only one navigation mistake cost us 8 or 9 minutes looking for the CP on a ‘pond Island’; once we reached the right place I immediately plunged knee deep into a boggy pond and found the control a few metres away, my race partner smugly rounding the water to reach the same place but keeping feet dry. Physically it was relatively forgiving terrain on the legs as going uphill for 45 minutes, flat for 45 minutes and downhill for 35 minutes seems to cause less muscle fatigue than 2 hours on flat ground. The underfoot conditions were liberating at times as bouncing through heather could not be further from the ‘prison’ of the gym treadmill.
The other Tri-adventure team consisting of Ed and Sophie had a decent run, despite losing some time taking some rather optimistic shortcuts across huge fields of heather. Their race plan worked out well picking up all the high point controls. However they were both feeling the effects of a little too much midweek training so their overall pace was a fair bit slower than their best. Something they have definitely learnt for next time.
2 hours running and time for the bike loop. Our ‘head south first’ planned route was again utterly ruined by the dummy controls revealed at the start, and a new plan was quickly formed to head north and only venture south if time allowed. Ascending to the moth northerly CPs was deceptively hard work as the ground was wet and tyres often failed to get purchase once clogged with mud. A reward for our effort was the views across Shropshire from atop ‘Wild Moor’ which were glorious, it’s no wonder Midland gliding club base themselves up there. A big factor in achieving our decent score on the mountain biking section was reading the contours carefully. It takes time and attention to detail to know how large all the climbs are and hence how to minimise the ‘altitude gain’. Evaluating each CP carefully and keeping an eye on the clock saw us pick up the big value CPs without dropping downhill significantly, then turning to home from 16 via 13. At 16 we had 35 minutes remaining and approximately 12 kms to the finish line. The route back included CP 13 worth a sizable 25 points and thankfully was quicker than expected; it felt a bit like a Tour de France descent down the steep and twisting road to Church Stretton!
Ed and Sophie decided on a very similar route to us however lost a significant portion of time in the mud trying to reach two fairly low valued CP’s. However their overall pace was good and with 30 minutes to go the Tri adventure teams bumped into each other.
Getting back on time is always critical in these events and Ed and Sophie decided to ere on the side of caution and start descending back to the race village. We however decided to grab one extra checkpoint, which was close and worth lots of points. The route back however was much quicker than expected, with the high valued CP on a lovely downhill road that also felt like a Tour de France descent. Unfortunately, as Ed later admitted, he had read the map wrong and thought it was on a bridal way rather than a road!
When the results were in the teams were only separated by one checkpoint, with Ed and Sophie doing well to get third place in the Mixed teams and ourselves only 1 place behind them in fourth. Having only one racer from a large field of competitors clear the course shows this was a Great race by Open5, and it was personally satisfying to look back and conclude that our strategy was right on.
See you at the next Tri-Adventure Sprint and December’s Open5!